Glory to God

They shall build up the ancient ruins;
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations.

Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks;
    foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers;
but you shall be called the priests of the Lord;
    they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God;
you shall eat the wealth of the nations,
    and in their glory you shall boast.
Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion;
    instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot;
therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion;
    they shall have everlasting joy.

For I the Lord love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrong;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
    and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their offspring shall be known among the nations,
    and their descendants in the midst of the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge them,
    that they are an offspring the Lord has blessed.

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
    my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
    and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
    to sprout up before all the nations. Isaiah 61:4-11 ESV

As God’s servant, Jesus will be the means by which He brings about the future redemption and restoration of His people, Israel. While God would be forced to punish Israel and Judah for their rebellion against Him, He promised through Isaiah that a day was coming when the tables would turn and His anger with them would be replaced with His favor being poured out upon them. And just as Jesus was the mechanism through which God brought salvation to the world, Jesus, as the Jewish Messiah, will be the one to redeem God’s chosen people. The apostle Paul assured the predominantly Gentile recipients of his letter to the church in Rome:

Once, you Gentiles were rebels against God, but when the people of Israel rebelled against him, God was merciful to you instead. Now they are the rebels, and God’s mercy has come to you so that they, too, will share in God’s mercy. – Romans 11:30-31 NLT

God will extend His mercy to the people of Israel, in spite of their blatant rejection of His Son at His first advent. In fact, Paul makes it clear that the rejection of Jesus by the Jews is what led God to show mercy on the Gentiles. Jesus had come to His own, but His own received Him not (John 1:11). And yet, God has not turned His back on the people of Israel. In fact, Paul points out that God is only waiting “until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ” (Romans 11:25 NLT). Evidently, God has a specific number of Gentiles that He has ordained for salvation, and when that full number has been achieved, He will turn His attention to His chosen people. This is not to say that Jews cannot and have not come to faith in Christ since His death and resurrection. Many have and many more will. But it is indicating that God has a specific plan for Israel as a nation. And Paul points out that, for the time being, “Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts” (Romans 11:26 NLT). But when God deems the time to be right, He will focus His mercy and favor on His chosen people. “And so all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26 NLT).

In this chapter, Isaiah provides us with some insights into what will happen when that time comes. And he uses terms like, “build up,” “raise up,” and “repair” that speak of the restorative nature of this coming day. The once devastated land of Israel will be brought back to a state of beauty and vitality. Isaiah describes strangers tending the flocks of Israel, illustrating the irenic state of affairs that will mark the world. Even Israel’s former enemies will serve them willingly and gladly. There will be no fear of harm and men will live free from the threat of war or hostility. These foreign nations will refer to the people of Israel as “ the priests of the Lord” and view them the ministers of God. The people of Israel will find themselves fulfilling the role had always longed for them. They will be lights to the nations. They will be His ambassadors.

And God will replace the shame and dishonor they once knew with honor and prosperity. For the first time in their long and storied history with God, they will know everlasting joy. It will not be a fleeting, ethereal joy that changes depending upon which direction the winds of adversity blow. No, this will be a permanent, never-ending joy.

But why will God do all these things for unrighteous Israel? What possible reason could He have for showering this rebellious and stubborn people with His mercy and favor? Because He loves justice and hates robbery and wrong. God will do the right thing because He is a righteous God. He will restore things back to the way they began before the fall took place. And He will remove all remnants of evil that manifests itself in robbery and wrongdoing. Sin will be eliminated and righteousness, elevated. And He will do it on behalf of His people, Israel. His undeserved blessing of His chosen people will get the attention of the nations. They will marvel at the grace He extends to the people of Israel and “will realize that they are a people the Lord has blessed” (Isaiah 61:9 NLT).

And Isaiah states that “The Sovereign Lord will show his justice to the nations of the world” (Isaiah 61:11 NLT). But how will God do that? By dressing His people “with the clothing of salvation” and draping them “in a robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10 NLT). He will shower His people with His unmerited favor and display His justice by keeping the covenant promise He has made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God will do the right thing and the nations will sit up and take notice. And the result will be that “Everyone will praise him!” (Isaiah 61:11 NLT). Every Jew and every Gentile will honor God for who He is and what He has done. His faithfulness will be on display. His unwavering love will be there for all to see. God will redeem the seemingly irredeemable. He will restore His wandering sheep to His fold. He will bring healing to the sick and hope to the helpless and hopeless.

As Isaiah so descriptively puts it: “so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations” (Isaiah 61:11 ESV). God will use His once rebellious people, Israel, to display His righteousness to the nations. The world will stand back and watch as God accomplishes a redemptive miracle among His people, transforming them from a dry spiritual wasteland to a rich and fertile valley overflowing with righteousness and justice.

Isaiah used this metaphor of fruitfulness earlier on in this same letter, comparing God’s future restoration of Israel like rain falling on the crops of a field.

“The rain and snow come down from the heavens
    and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
    producing seed for the farmer
    and bread for the hungry.
It is the same with my word.
    I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
    and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
You will live in joy and peace.
    The mountains and hills will burst into song,
    and the trees of the field will clap their hands!
Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.
    Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.
These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name;
    they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.” – Isaiah 55:10-15 NLT

God will get all the glory because God will be the one who does all lthe work. And even the Gentile nations will recognize the hand of God and give honor and praise to the name of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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No Peace

1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
    or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
but your iniquities have made a separation
    between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
    so that he does not hear.
For your hands are defiled with blood
    and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies;
    your tongue mutters wickedness.
No one enters suit justly;
    no one goes to law honestly;
they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies,
    they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity.
They hatch adders’ eggs;
    they weave the spider’s web;
he who eats their eggs dies,
    and from one that is crushed a viper is hatched.
Their webs will not serve as clothing;
    men will not cover themselves with what they make.
Their works are works of iniquity,
    and deeds of violence are in their hands.
Their feet run to evil,
    and they are swift to shed innocent blood;
their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity;
    desolation and destruction are in their highways.
The way of peace they do not know,
    and there is no justice in their paths;
they have made their roads crooked;
    no one who treads on them knows peace.
Isaiah 59:1-8 ESV

Judah’s sorry state of affairs was not an indictment against God’s power to save. He was fully capable of bringing them relief. After all, He was the very source of their current condition. It was God who had chosen to use the Assyrians as His instruments of judgment against His rebellious people. And He was the one who had warned that future judgment would come in the form of the Babylonians. The circumstances in which the people of Judah found themselves were, in a sense, self-inflicted. They had brought it on themselves because they had refused to listen to God’s calls to acknowledge their sin and return to Him. They had repeatedly stiff-armed God’s prophets, including Isaiah, rejecting their messages and stubbornly maintaining their love affair with false gods.

So, in this chapter, we see Isaiah delivering a message to his fellow Judahites that leaves them without excuse. He will not allow them to blame God. He refuses to let them cast God as the villain and themselves as the innocent victims. This was not a case of divine parental abuse or abandonment. They were the cause of their own pain and suffering. And Isaiah conveys that message in stark terms.

It’s your sins that have cut you off from God.
    Because of your sins, he has turned away
    and will not listen anymore. – Isaiah 59:2 NLT

They had abandoned God. Not the other way around. In fact, God had patiently and persistently called on them to repent. He had rescued them time and time again from the consequences of their own sinfulness. He had lovingly disciplined them for their unfaithfulness, welcoming them back with open arms. But they had responded to His grace with ingratitude and continued infidelity. And the prophet Jeremiah describes their stubborn refusal to repent with a sense of shock and surprise.

O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth?
You have struck them down,
    but they felt no anguish;
you have consumed them,
    but they refused to take correction.
They have made their faces harder than rock;
    they have refused to repent. – Jeremiah 5:3 ESV

That the people of Judah were guilty was beyond debate, and Isaiah reveals why. He provides a list of evidence that is both lengthy and appalling. It includes murder, depravity, lying, injustice, perjury, dishonesty, and violence. And these manifestations of their own wickedness were showing up in every area of their lives – from their homes to their courts of law. Iniquity was ubiquitous. And while not every member of their society was equally complicit, they all stood equally condemned. There was a corporate culpability shared by all, from the youngest to the oldest and the richest to the poorest. At some level, every single individual in their community stood before God as guilty, having committed their own fair share of sins against Him.

The list Isaiah shares is similiar to one that the apostle Paul gave to the believers in Colossae. He reminded them that, even as Christians,  they needed to continue to purge their lives of those sins which mark the lives of each and every human being who walks this planet.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. – Colossians 3:5-6 ESV

Mankind, apart from help from God, is hopelessly addicted and attracted to the very things that bring the wrath of God. We can’t help it. And Paul warned the believers in Rome how a holy God must deal with those who continue to live lives of unholiness.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. – Romans 1:18 ESV

But not only does a life of ungodliness and unrighteousness bring the judgment of God, it breeds destruction. Isaiah describes the people of Judah as hatching adders’ eggs. Their evil actions were going to produce some seriously negative consequenes. And it doesn’t take a herpetologist to understand that hatching the eggs of a poisonous snake brings more of the same.

And Isaiah compares their sinful actions with the weaving of spider webs.  You can’t expect to produce clothes with that which is ephemeral and fragile. The life of ungodliness can produce nothing of lasting value. It may appear attractive but, in the end, it leaves you with nothing tangible or beneficial from all your effort.

Just how bad was it in Judah? Isaiah is unsparing in his assessment.

All their activity is filled with sin – Isaiah 59:6 NLT

Their feet run to do evil, and they rush to commit murder – Isaiah 59:7 NLT

They think only about sinning… – Isaiah 59:7 NLT

Not exactly a flattering picture. Their lives were inundated by sin and rebellion. It permeated their community. It influenced every facet of their corporate experience, from the halls of the king’s palace to the lowliest peasant’s hut. And, as a result, they were all experiencing the consequences that come from living in open rebellion against God and pursuing a way of life that is in direct violation to His call to holiness.

They don’t know where to find peace
    or what it means to be just and good.
They have mapped out crooked roads,
    and no one who follows them knows a moment’s peace. – Isaiah 59:8 NLT

No peace. No joy. No justice. No righteousness. Without God, none of these things are achievable. You can’t walk away from Him and expect to find what only He can deliver. A life of sin is a dead end. It offers hope, fulfillment, satisfaction, and peace. But it can’t deliver on its promise. Pursuing the false gods of this world may appear attractive, but they will never produce a single promise they offer. God was offering His people peace. They could be restored to a right relationship with Him and enjoy peace with the One who had made them. They could enjoy peace in their community as they allowed God to guide their actions and change their attitudes. But as long as they continued to refuse Him and choose their own paths, they would find themselves living in turmoil and in constant pursuit of the one thing for which all men long: Peace.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Simply Better.

1 A good name is better than precious ointment,
    and the day of death than the day of birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning
    than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
    and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
    for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise
    than to hear the song of fools.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
    so is the laughter of the fools;
    this also is vanity.
Surely oppression drives the wise into madness,
    and a bribe corrupts the heart.
Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
    and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
    for anger lodges in the heart of fools.
10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
    For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance,
    an advantage to those who see the sun.
12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
    and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
13 Consider the work of God:
    who can make straight what he has made crooked?

14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him. Ecclesiastes 7:1-14 ESV

Once again, using a steady, staccato stream of parables as his tool, Solomon provides us with yet more proof of the futility of life lived under the sun. Still maintaining his somewhat pessimistic outlook, he utilizes a series of stark contrasts in order to support his central theme that all is vanity: He juxtaposes birth and death, sorrow and laughter, wisdom and foolishness, the beginning and the end, the patient and the proud. In each case, Solomon draws a conclusion, deeming one better than the other, and what he decides is meant to shock and surprise us. He starts out comparing birth with death, and while we might logically conclude that the beginning of a life is preferable to its end, Solomon would disagree. And he uses a somewhat odd comparison to make his point. In verse one, Solomon utilizes a word play, using two similar sounding Hebrew words: shem and shemen, to make his point. Shem means “name” and refers to someone’s reputation. Shemen is the Hebrew word for “oil” and it typically refers to an oil used for anointing that had a strong fragrance associated with it. Solomon states that a good name or reputation is better than precious ointment. To put it another way, he seems to be saying that being good is better than smelling good. A man who hasn’t bathed may douse himself with cologne, but he only masks the stench. His life is a sham, marked by hypocrisy. And Solomon uses shem and shemen to make a point about birth and death. While the beginning of life is associated with feasting and celebration, it masks the reality that much hurt and heartache lie ahead. A baby is born without a reputation. It has had no time to establish a name for itself. And no one knows how that child’s life will turn out. Yet, we celebrate and rejoice the day of his birth. Solomon is not suggesting we cease from celebrating new birth, but that we recognize that it is the end of one’s life that truly matters. We all face the same fate. Death is inevitable and inescapable. And when it comes time to mourn the life of someone we knew and loved, those who have managed to achieve and maintain a good reputation will be missed most. When it comes time to mourn the loss of someone of good character, the sorrow will prove better than laughter, because the reflections on that individual’s life will bring sweet and lasting memories. It will remind the living of what is truly important, and the wise will glean invaluable lessons from a life lived well.

When a child is born, words of encouragement may be spoken, but they are all hypothetical in nature. No one knows the future, so no one can presume to know how that child’s life will turn out. We can and should be hopeful, but we cannot be certain that our hope will be fulfilled. Yet, at the time of one’s death, there is irrefutable evidence that proves the true outcome of that person’s life. A life lived well will be well documented and greatly celebrated. Even in the sorrow of the moment, there will be joy. Solomon puts it this way: “by sadness of face the heart is made glad” (Ecclesiastes 7:3 ESV). The memories of the one we have lost bring joy to our heart and put a smile on our face, and we experience the seeming dichotomy of sadness and gladness.

Solomon’s use of shem and shemen has ongoing application. He seems to be advocating a life that is lived beneath the surface – well beyond the shallow and pretentious trappings of materialism and hedonism. He refers to “the house of mirth,” the place where fools tend to gather. It is the place of joy and gladness, rejoicing and pleasure. The fool makes it his primary destination, believing that it is there his heart will find satisfaction and fulfillment. But Solomon recommends the house of mourning, where sadness and sorrow are found. Again, it is at the end of a life that the true character of that life is revealed in detail. The tears of sorrow may be for one who lived his life well and whose departure will leave a hole in the lives of those left behind. But, in far too many cases, the tears flow out of sadness over a life marked by sweet-smelling oil on the surface, but nothing of value on the inside. The “perfumes” of life are the things we acquire and accumulate, none of which we can take with us. They represent the oil of achievement and visible success. Our homes, cars, clothes, portfolios, resumes, and 401ks may leave the impression that we had it all but, at death, we will leave it all behind. As Job so aptly put it, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave” (Job 1:21 NLT).

Solomon has learned that life should be accompanied by a certain thoughtfulness and soberness. It requires serious reflection and careful examination in order to learn all that life has to offer. But we are prone to live life with our hearts and eyes set on those things that bring us the greatest amount of pleasure and satisfaction, temporary though they may be. We prefer the sweet-smelling, short-lived perfume of a self-indulgent lifestyle. We want it all now. We prefer joy to sorrow, pleasure to pain, happiness to heartache, and a good time to a good name.

But Solomon knew from experience that living in the house of mirth never brought true happiness. He had learned the hard way that a life lived with pleasure as its primary focus rarely resulted in lasting satisfaction or true joy. Like perfume, its aroma faded with time. Which is why Solomon always reverted to wisdom.

11 Wisdom is even better when you have money.
    Both are a benefit as you go through life.
12 Wisdom and money can get you almost anything,
    but only wisdom can save your life. – Ecclesiastes 7:11-12 NLT

Money might improve your life, over the short-term, but only wisdom can save your life. And wisdom can’t be bought or acquired. It comes through observation and application of life lessons, and that requires a willingness to look beneath the surface, beyond the pleasant-looking lies of the enemy. The apostle John gives us some sober-sounding, wisdom producing words to consider.

15 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

And Solomon reminds us to look at life more soberly and seriously, judging it not from our limited human vantage point, but through the eyes of God. “Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked?” (Ecclesiastes 7:13 NLT). We see death as negative, the end of life. But God sees things differently. We view pleasure as preferable to pain, but God works in ways we can’t comprehend, using the seeming incongruities of life to teach us the greatest lessons. And as Solomon has done before, he boils his thoughts down to one simple suggestion: “Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God” (Ecclesiastes 7:14 NLT). There is nothing wrong with enjoying the pleasures of life and the blessings that God bestows on us in this life. But we must recognize that God is found in the extremes of life. He is sovereign over all that we experience in this life: the good, the bad, the pleasant, the painful, death and life, wealth and poverty, joy and sorrow. A wise man will look for God in everything, and find Him. The fool will set his sights on finding joy, pleasure, satisfaction, significance and pleasure, but miss God in the process.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When God Is Not Enough.

1 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place?

All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living? Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.

10 Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. 11 The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? 12 For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun? Ecclesiastes 6:1-12 ESV

From Solomon’s unique vantage point as king, he has been able to see and experience a great deal of what life has to offer. Some of his observations are more objective in nature, providing the perspective of an impartial outsider, viewing the lives of the people in his kingdom. He has been able to witness first-hand, the oppression of the poor. As a judge over his people, he has had to preside over countless cases involving injustice and abuse. He has had to listen to the cries of the destitute and needy, as they have begged for someone to help them in their time of need. But some of Solomon’s most powerful insights come from his willingness to look at his own life and share his more subjective and personal observations. In this chapter, he seems to be speaking from personal experience, revealing his own frustrations over what he sees and what he fears. First of all, he starts with what he describes as an evil or wickedness that he has observed “under the sun” or in this life. He writes from a human perspective, presenting his earth-bound opinion regarding what he sees as a prevalent problem among mankind. There are those whom God has obviously blessed with great wealth, but He has also denied them the power or capacity to enjoy all that they have been given. These people have all that their hearts desire, except contentment and joy. And to make matters even worse, when they die, their God-given blessings are enjoyed by someone else. It’s all a grievous evil. Or is it? First of all, Solomon’s viewpoint reflects the commonly held perspective of his day. Anyone who enjoyed great wealth had obviously been blessed by God. And if they had been blessed by God, their lives must have been pleasing to God. Which is why it made no sense for God to withhold the one thing these people needed: The ability to enjoy what He had given them. Solomon was right when he concluded that all good things come from God. In fact, he would have based his view of the Scriptures themselves.

11 Truth springs up from the earth,
    and righteousness smiles down from heaven.
12 Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings.
    Our land will yield its bountiful harvest. – Psalm 85:11-12 ESV

Even the New Testament author, James, echoes this view.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights… – James 1:17 ESV

But where Solomon missed the point was in his assumption that wealth and material goods were to be the sole source of his enjoyment. In other words, he wrongly assumed that it was the blessings of God that brought joy, contentment, satisfaction and significance. He misunderstood the true nature of the source of those things. God was to have been his focus. Not just as the giver of good things, but as the only good thing anyone could ever need. God was to be enough. The apostle Paul expressed this viewpoint when he said:

11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

It didn’t really matter to Paul whether he had a little or a lot. As long as he had his relationship with Christ, that was all that mattered. Solomon placed his emphasis on the tangible and temporal. For him, the proof of God’s love was in the presence of material goods and the ability to enjoy them. And yet, what Solomon was experiencing was the very painful lesson that nothing can ever satisfy our inner longings like God Himself.

For Solomon, the measurement of a successful life was based on both quantity and quality. He pessimistically observed that if a man ended up fathering hundreds of children (and he had), and lived a long life (which he did), but his soul was not satisfied with life’s good things (and his wasn’t), then his life was a waste. In fact, he would have been better off if he had died at birth. Notice what he is saying. He is measuring the significance of life using a quantitative matrix. He operated on the commonly held assumption: The more, the merrier. It was long life and lots of kids that brought joy. But having hundreds of children, none of whose names you know, will never bring satisfaction. Living a long life, but without a relationship with the One who gave you life, will never satisfy. Acquiring much wealth and accomplishing great deeds will never make anyone truly happy or content, if they fail to seek the giver of all good things.

For Solomon, nothing was more futile and frustrating than the thought of living a long life devoid of contentment. He states that a man “might live a thousand years twice over but still not find contentment. And since he must die like everyone else—well, what’s the use?” (Ecclesiastes 6:6 NLT). And, sadly, this is a description of Solomon’s life. This describes where he finds himself. He is at the end of life looking back, and while he can claim to have fathered hundreds of children and lived many years, he cannot say as Paul did, “I have learned to be content.” More was not merrier.

In his mind, it was all about satisfaction. Even the poor, who spend their days trying to scratch out a living and provide food for their next meal, only discover that they’re hungry again. The wise, the wealthy, the foolish and the poor are all faced with the same grievous problem: Enough is never enough. Satisfaction and contentment are illusive. And the only advice Solomon can come up with is “Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have” (Ecclesiastes 6:9 NLT). But again, his emphasis is on the wrong thing. He is not recommending that we find our satisfaction in God, but that we simply resign ourselves to enjoying what little we have been given by God. He has missed the point.

And because he has missed the point, he misses out on the real meaning and purpose of life. It is not about gaining and getting. It is not about acquiring and accumulating. It is about learning to seek satisfaction, significance, joy and contentment from a relationship with the God of the universe. But Solomon had a warped perspective about God. He refers to God as “one stronger than he.” He doesn’t see God as Father, but as enforcer. He doesn’t approach God as the gracious giver of good things, but as a capricious tyrant who withholds the ability to enjoy what has been given. And while he rightly understands that God knows all and sees all, Solomon seems to resent the fact that God keeps the future fate of man a mystery. Which leaves man stuck in the here-and-now, trying to make the most out of what he has before his life comes to an abrupt end.

What Solomon describes in this chapter is the sad state of all men and women who refuse to see God as the central source of all good in their lives. He does bless. He does give good things. He is the author of life and the source of all that we can see. But God is not to be viewed as some disembodied purveyor of presents, like a cosmic Genie in a bottle. He is the gift. He is the good. He is the satisfaction and significance for which man so desperately seeks. The apostle Paul summarized it well when he spoke to the people of Athens, describing the nature of the “unknown god” to whom they offered sacrifices, but of whom they knew nothing.

24 “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25 and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26 From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.

27 “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist. – Acts 17:24-28 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Illusive Nature of Contentment.

If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.

10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. 11 When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 12 Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.

13 There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. 15 As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. 16 This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? 17 Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.

18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart. Ecclesiastes 5:8-20 ESV

As Solomon looks back on his long life as the king of Israel, he reflects on the many life lessons he has learned and, in this section, presents them in the form of a series of proverbs. These short, seemingly unrelated maxims, most often utilize comparisons to drive home a point and to present time-proven truths in a manner that makes wisdom practical and applicable to everyday life.

In verses 8-9, Solomon readdresses the issues of injustice and the oppression of the poor, which he initially covered at the beginning of chapter four. The presence of these problems within a society should not shock or surprise us. The wealthy and powerful, driven by a desire to maintain and even increase their social standing, will be tempted to use their power and influence to take advantage of those less fortunate than themselves. And in these verses, Solomon points out that every high official who takes advantage of the poor or practices injustice, must answer to yet a higher official who wields even greater authority. In other words, there is a chain of command that ultimately leads to the king. And the more powerful always control and take advantage of the less powerful. It is the nature of things. Injustice and oppression, abuse of power and unethical leadership seem to be inevitable outcomes of government. It is inevitable. But Solomon seems to conclude that a monarchy is preferable to anarchy. Even with its potential for abuse, government provides a semblance of stability and control that results in cultivated lands. In other words, the very presence of governmental structure and hierarchical authority can result in abuse of power and lead to injustice, but it can also produce corporate benefits that all enjoy. Underlying so much of what Solomon says in this book is the undeniable reality of sin and the fallen condition of the human heart. Even good men are prone to do bad things. As the prophet Isaiah so aptly put it: “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT).

In the next section, verses 10-12, Solomon addresses a related topic: The love of money. Solomon flatly states, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 5:10 ESV). When it comes to wealth, you can never seem to have enough. The pursuit of money can become addictive. And it can be accompanied by a fear of losing what you already have. Money makes conspicuous consumption possible, which Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes as “lavish or wasteful spending thought to enhance social prestige.” But as Solomon warns, it doesn’t work. It never satisfies. The primary reason we pursue wealth is in order to satisfy our desires. But we tend to find that, with all our newfound capacity to acquire and accumulate, the one thing we can’t get our hands on is contentment. Timothy warned against the dangers of making money our master.

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.

But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. – 1 Timothy 6:6-10 NLT

One of the realities that come with increased wealth is an increase in responsibilities. The more you have, the more must take care of and maintain, and that requires help. And no one knew this better than Solomon. The book of 1 Kings gives us a glimpse into Solomon’s vast wealth and allows us to imagine just how extensive a retinue of servants was required to care for all that he owned.

22 The daily food requirements for Solomon’s palace were 150 bushels of choice flour and 300 bushels of meal; 23 also 10 oxen from the fattening pens, 20 pasture-fed cattle, 100 sheep or goats, as well as deer, gazelles, roe deer, and choice poultry.

24 Solomon’s dominion extended over all the kingdoms west of the Euphrates River, from Tiphsah to Gaza. And there was peace on all his borders. 25 During the lifetime of Solomon, all of Judah and Israel lived in peace and safety. And from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, each family had its own home and garden.

26 Solomon had 4,000 stalls for his chariot horses, and he had 12,000 horses. – 1 Kings 4:22-26 NLT

Back in chapter two, Solomon described his vast and expanding network of servants, slaves, employees and concubines.

I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire! – Ecclesiastes 2:7-8 NLT

He had everything his heart desired, except contentment. And he was forced to feed and care for all those who worked for him. Which is what led him to write, “The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth—except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers!” (Ecclesiastes 5:11 NLT). And the truly vexing thing about it all is that the man who has it all can’t sleep at night. When Solomon states that “the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep”, he is not speaking of indigestion, but of insomnia caused by constant worry over wealth. What you own ends up owning you. You become a slave to that which was intended to serve you. And yet, in contrast, “People who work hard sleep well, whether they eat little or much” (Ecclesiastes 5:12 NLT). 

With his next proverbial statement, Solomon addresses the fleeting nature of wealth. He describes a “grievous evil” that he has witnessed in this life, and it is likely that he is speaking from personal experience, not objective observation. He had first-hand experience with this kind of evil or misfortune, having had his fare share of bad business deals and risky investments.

13 There is another serious problem I have seen under the sun. Hoarding riches harms the saver. 14 Money is put into risky investments that turn sour, and everything is lost. In the end, there is nothing left to pass on to one’s children. – Ecclesiastes 5:13-14 NLT

In one fell swoop, the money and material assets we have worked so hard to accumulate, can be gone. They can disappear in an instant, leaving us in poverty and our children with no inheritance. And even if we are able to maintain a hold on all our assets to the bitter end, we can take none of it with us. Our wealth remains behind us. And as Solomon stated earlier, “I must leave to others everything I have earned. And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 NLT). 

When all was said and done, Solomon was left with one observation that allowed him to extract a bit of hope out of all the meaninglessness and despair of life. He saw that man had been gifted by God with the ability “to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life” (Ecclesiastes 5:18 NLT). Not exactly a cheerful observation, but it seems that, for Solomon, the only recourse he had to keep from being frustrated, discouraged, and angry, was to enjoy life as best as he could in the time he had on this planet. Because, after that, no one really knew what came next. What Solomon concludes must be closely examined.

19 And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. 20 God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past. – Ecclesiastes 5:19-20 NLT

There is a degree of truth to be found in these statements, but we must not fail to recognize that Solomon is speaking from a position of resignation and, in some ways, resentment. He is frustrated by all the inequities and injustices of life lived under the sun. He has tried anything and everything to find satisfaction and significance in life. And when he simply states that the only thing left to do is to enjoy your work and accept your lot in life, he does not appear to bespeaking as one who is content and satisfied, but as someone who has resigned himself to something less than what he had hoped for. There is no joy in his statement. He almost describes God as a divine taskmaster who keeps us busy in order to distract us. If we compare the words of Solomon with those of his father, David, we see a marked difference in how they both perceived life and the God who made it all possible.

11 Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. 12 Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.

13 “O our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name! 14 But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us! 15 We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace. – 1 Chronicles 29:11-15 NLT

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Injustices of Life and Uncertainty of Death.

16 Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. 17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. 18 I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. 19 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? 22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him? Ecclesiastes 3:16-22 ESV

For Solomon, life had become little more than a never-ending cycle of unavoidable outcomes. Planting was followed by harvesting, only to have to plant again. Periods of peace would eventually be replaced with times of war. Efforts to build and construct would one day result in the need to tear down. Seeking for what was lost would result in finding, only to lose again. Feelings of love would often succumb to thoughts of hate. And ultimately, life would be trumped by death. And as he notes in this passage, even while man lives, he experiences the inevitability of injustice. Where he expects to see justice and righteousness, he instead finds wickedness. Solomon describes life lived “under the sun” as a disappointing and difficult experience. And about the only silver lining he can find in this dark cloud of despair is that he somehow still believed that God would judge the righteous and the wicked. But it is likely that Solomon is not thinking of a future judgment related to the end of the world and the eternal state. He has his eyes fixed solidly on the here-and-now. Just take a look at his closing statement in this passage. “Who can bring him [man] to see what will be after him?” The idea of a future judgment was almost impossible for Solomon to fathom. His perspective was immersed in the present, bound by time, and marred by his inability to see into the future, especially beyond the grave.
Two different times in this passage, Solomon uses the phrase, “I said in my heart.” This is a statement of deep reflection. He is wrestling with substantive issues, turning them over in his mind, and trying to come to some sort of resolution. He is combining his many observations of life’s inequities and futile inevitabilities with his wisdom, and arriving at conclusions. These verses are not random, off-the-cuff thoughts, but the well-reasoned reflections of a man who has spent countless hours struggling to come to his conclusions. And yet, we can see that so much of what he has concluded is wrong. His views on life and man’s existence lack a divine perspective. Yes, he acknowledges the existence of God and even concedes the sovereignty of God over all things. But he views God as nothing more than a distant deity, far removed from everyday life, who stands in detached judgment over the affairs of man. In fact, when considering the human condition from his limited earthly perspective, Solomon concludes, “God proves to people that they are like animals” (Ecclesiastes 3:18 NLT). That is not a view of God that speaks of His love, mercy and grace. It does not reflect an understanding of God that is based on an intimate, interpersonal relationship. While Solomon was the son of David, he did not share his father’s opinion about God. Listen to what David had to say.
But you, Lord, are a shield that protects me;
you are my glory and the one who restores me.
To the Lord I cried out,
and he answered me from his holy hill. – Psalm 3:3-4 NLT
You make me happier
than those who have abundant grain and wine.
I will lie down and sleep peacefully,
for you, Lord, make me safe and secure. – Psalm 4:7-8 NLT
But as for me, because of your great faithfulness I will enter your house;
I will bow down toward your holy temple as I worship you. – Psalm 5:7 NLT
David had a deep and abiding love for God. He saw God as intimately involved in the everyday affairs of his life. His God was personal and relatable, not distant and disconnected. But for Solomon, God was little more than a powerful, unseen force, directing the affairs of life and determining the destinies of men with a certain degree of detachment and disinterest. In fact, Solomon accuses God of using His divine power to prove to men that they are little better than beasts.
For people and animals share the same fate—both breathe and both must die. So people have no real advantage over the animals. How meaningless! – Ecclesiastes 3:19 NLT
Just compare Solomon’s thoughts with those of his father, David.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
    and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
    and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth! – Psalm 8:3-9 ESV

David had a drastically different view of God and man. He fully acknowledged the inferior nature of man when compared to the majesty of Almighty God. But he also recognized man’s God-given status as the crowning achievement of His creation. Yet, all Solomon seemed to see was the fact that men were doomed to the same fate as animals. Death and decay await them both. And Solomon further expresses his dire outlook by asking the question, “who can prove that the human spirit goes up and the spirit of animals goes down into the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:21 NLT). In other words, what guarantee do we have that there is something out there after death? How do we know that there is any existence beyond the grave? You can begin to see why Solomon reached the conclusion, “there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can” (Ecclesiastes 3:12 NLT). When he considered the fact that the wise and the foolish both end their lives in death, he concluded, “there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work” (Ecclesiastes 2:24 NLT).

Enjoy it while you can. That seems to be Solomon’s life mantra. Since he had no guarantee of what would happen after death, he was going to grab all the gusto he could in this life. He resigned himself to the reality that this is all there is, which led him to say, “I saw that there is nothing better for people than to be happy in their work. That is our lot in life” (Ecclesiastes 3:22 NLT). But notice that he has relegated life to this world. He has no concept of eternal life. Once again, we must compare the mindset of Solomon with that of his own father. David repeatedly expressed his belief in the eternal nature of his relationship with God.

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever. – Psalm 23:6 NLT

I have asked the Lord for one thing—
this is what I desire!
I want to live in the Lord’s house all the days of my life,
so I can gaze at the splendor of the Lord
and contemplate in his temple. – Psalm 27:4 NLT

Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings! – Psalm 61:4 NLT

There is no doubt that life can be filled with injustices. We all know that death is inevitable and inescapable. But we have an assurance from God that all injustices will one day be rectified. It may not be in our lifetime, but we can rest assured that God will ultimately replace all wickedness with righteousness. He will mete out justice to all those who have lived their lives by taking advantage of the innocent and abusing the helpless. And while the fall brought the inescapable reality of death to God’s creation, He plans to redeem and restore all He has made. And for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, we have the assurance that our existence does not end with our death, because He died so that we might live. And nobody expresses this reality better than the apostle Paul.

22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. 23 Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance. – Romans 8:22-25 NLT

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Best Is Yet To Come.

And the captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest, and Zephaniah the second priest and the three keepers of the threshold; and from the city he took an officer who had been in command of the men of war, and seven men of the king’s council, who were found in the city; and the secretary of the commander of the army, who mustered the people of the land; and sixty men of the people of the land, who were found in the midst of the city. And Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. And the king of Babylon struck them down and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath. So Judah was taken into exile out of its land.

This is the number of the people whom Nebuchadnezzar carried away captive: in the seventh year, 3,023 Judeans; in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar he carried away captive from Jerusalem 832 persons; in the twenty-third year of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive of the Judeans 745 persons; all the persons were 4,600.

And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him out of prison. And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table, and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, until the day of his death, as long as he lived. – Jeremiah 52:23-34 ESV

In the closing verses of this chapter, and as way of a wrap-up to the entire book, Jeremiah logs the number of individuals who were taken captive by the Babylonians. But first, he mentions the name of Seraiah, the chief priest. This is evidently a different Seraiah than the one mentioned in chapter 51. This Seraiah, will provide a link back to the reign of Josiah, the last godly king of Judah who had attempted to institute religious reforms in the land. Seraiah’s grandfather, Hilkiah, had been King Josiah’s high priest. It was Hilkiah who had discovered the book of the Law, while supervising renovations to the temple in Jerusalem. And it was this discovery that radically changed the spiritual climate of Judah during the days of King Josiah. But after Josiah’s death, things had taken a markedly negative turn for the worse. The kings who followed Josiah overturned most of his reforms and, once again, led the people in apostasy and idolatry. Hilkiah’s grandson, Seraiah, is listed as one of those murdered by King Nebuchadnezzar. As the high priest, he had failed to live in accordance with the will of God and had not led the people of God to remain faithful. And yet, we know that Seraiah’s sons would be spared and be transported to Babylon along with the other exiles.

Many years later, during the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia, there was a man named Ezra. He was the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah – Ezra 7:1 NLT

Ezra would become a reformer, leading the people of Judah from exile in the land of Babylon, back to the land of Canaan. And it would be another grandson of Seraiah, named Jeshua, born to his son Jehozadak, who would become high priest and, alongside Zerubbabel, lead the people in the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.

Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jehozadak responded by starting again to rebuild the Temple of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them and helped them. – Ezra 5:2 NLT

So, while Seraiah would die an ignoble death, his sons, descendants of Aaron, the original priest of God, would play significant roles in the reestablishment of the nation of Judah. God punished those who had played roles in leading the people astray. But God would raise up future leaders who would play significant parts in the restoration of the nation of Judah, the repopulating of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple. He would start with a new generation.

But Jeremiah makes it clear that there were thousands who found themselves bound as prisoners and deported to a life of slavery in Babylon. He states the number of exiles as 4,600, but the book of 2 Kings says the figure was 10, 800. The discrepancy is probably a case of Jeremiah counting only the males and not the women and children who were also taken captive. But suffice it to say, there were many who found their lives radically and irrevocably changed due to the fall of Jerusalem. The emphasis Jeremiah seems to be making is that the number of Jews taken captive was relatively small. This remnant would be transported to Babylon, where they would remain for 70 long years. But at the end of that time, more than 97,000 will return to the land of Judah to rebuilt the city of Jerusalem and restore the former glory of the temple of God. They would experience the blessings of God, even as they lived in exile. He would multiply them and create a remnant to return that far outnumbered those who had been taken captive. Even in the midst of their disobedience and God’s discipline, He would prosper them.

The final section of the book chronicles the fate of Jehoiachin, the former king of Judah. He has the somewhat sad distinction of having been king for only three months.

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months. His mother was Nehushta, the daughter of Elnathan from Jerusalem. Jehoiachin did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as his father had done.

During Jehoiachin’s reign, the officers of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came up against Jerusalem and besieged it. Nebuchadnezzar himself arrived at the city during the siege. Then King Jehoiachin, along with the queen mother, his advisers, his commanders, and his officials, surrendered to the Babylonians.

In the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, he took Jehoiachin prisoner. – 2 Kings 24:8-12 NLT

So, Jehoiachin had been a prisoner of the Babylonians since 597 B.C., a total of 35 years. But the time came when the new king of Babylon, Evil-merodach, showed him mercy and released him from prison. He replaced his prison clothes with royal robes. He made Jehoiachin a permanent guest at his table and provided him with a regular allowance. In essence, he treated Jehoiachin as the king of Judah, showing him respect, deference and honor, in spite of his defeated status and the non-existent state of his kingdom. So, here is where the book of Jeremiah ends. The king of Judah is in exile and the throne in Jerusalem remains empty. The city is a ghost town. The nation is in disarray. The people are dispersed and disheartened. And for 70 long years, that would remain the state of the people of Judah. But God was not done yet. He had further plans for His people. He would raise up a new high priest. He would call on Zerubbabel and Ezra to lead His people back to the land. Later on, He would raise up Nehemiah to return to Judah and carry on the work. At the close of the book of Jeremiah, things are left in a confused and uncertain state. But God is behind the scenes, working out His divine plan and orchestrating events in such a way that the former exiles would take part in a second exodus, be set free from bondage and miraculously returned to the land of promise. God was far from finished. The story was not yet complete. And the book of Ezra opens up with the next chapter of God’s sovereign plan for His people.

He stirred the heart of Cyrus to put this proclamation in writing and to send it throughout his kingdom:

“This is what King Cyrus of Persia says:

“The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build him a Temple at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Any of you who are his people may go to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild this Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives in Jerusalem. And may your God be with you! Wherever this Jewish remnant is found, let their neighbors contribute toward their expenses by giving them silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock, as well as a voluntary offering for the Temple of God in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:2-4 NLT

The best was yet to come.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Ungratefulness For God’s Faithfulness.

Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said, “Let me run and carry news to the king that the Lord has delivered him from the hand of his enemies.” And Joab said to him, “You are not to carry news today. You may carry news another day, but today you shall carry no news, because the king’s son is dead.” Then Joab said to the Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” The Cushite bowed before Joab, and ran. Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said again to Joab, “Come what may, let me also run after the Cushite.” And Joab said, “Why will you run, my son, seeing that you will have no reward for the news?” “Come what may,” he said, “I will run.” So he said to him, “Run.” Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain, and outran the Cushite.

Now David was sitting between the two gates, and the watchman went up to the roof of the gate by the wall, and when he lifted up his eyes and looked, he saw a man running alone. The watchman called out and told the king. And the king said, “If he is alone, there is news in his mouth.” And he drew nearer and nearer. The watchman saw another man running. And the watchman called to the gate and said, “See, another man running alone!” The king said, “He also brings news.” The watchman said, “I think the running of the first is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok.” And the king said, “He is a good man and comes with good news.”

Then Ahimaaz cried out to the king, “All is well.” And he bowed before the king with his face to the earth and said, “Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delivered up the men who raised their hand against my lord the king.” And the king said, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” Ahimaaz answered, “When Joab sent the king’s servant, your servant, I saw a great commotion, but I do not know what it was.” And the king said, “Turn aside and stand here.” So he turned aside and stood still.

And behold, the Cushite came, and the Cushite said, “Good news for my lord the king! For the Lord has delivered you this day from the hand of all who rose up against you.” The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” And the Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up against you for evil be like that young man.” And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” – 2 Samuel 18:19-33 ESV 

David had sent his troops into battle against the superior forces of his son, Absalom, and he had stayed behind. As the day wore on, he could do nothing but wonder what had happened. This was a winner-takes-all battle that would determine whether David would regain his throne, spend his life in exile, or lose his life to his own son. So, when Joab and his troops had won a great victory over and done away with Absalom, they sent word to David. But Joab knew exactly how David would respond. He had been fully aware of David’s command to spare the life of Absalom, but he had disobeyed. He had personally driven three spears into the body of David’s rebellious son as he helplessly hung from a tree, his hair long hair caught in its branches.
Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok the priest, had already been chosen by David to be a courier, bringing him any news taking place within the walls of Jerusalem. So, he offered to be the one to inform David of the great victory. But Joab knew that this news was not going to be received well by David. Joab knew David well and had seen how he had treated other messengers who bore bad news (2 Samuel 1). As a result, he sent a Cushite, a foreigner, to tell David of the victory and the death of his son. Yet, Ahimaaz was determined to be the one to give David the news and he outran the Cushite. And when he arrived at David’s camp, he only told him of the victory over the Israelites. He pleaded ignorance regarding the physical well-being of Absalom. Perhaps he didn’t know what had happened or he could have lied, desiring to win favor with David by being the first to tell him the good news of the victory. He would let the Cushite be the bearer of bad news. And bad news it was. David’s reaction says it all.
The king was overcome with emotion. He went up to the room over the gateway and burst into tears. And as he went, he cried, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! O Absalom, my son, my son.” – 2 Samuel 18:33 NLT
David doesn’t say a word about the victory. He shows no gratitude to either Ahimaaz or the Cushite for bringing him news that his kingdom had been restored. Even these two young men had recognized the hand of God in the day’s events. Ahimaaz had announced to David:
“Praise to the Lord your God, who has handed over the rebels who dared to stand against my lord the king.” – 2 Samuel 18:28 NLT

The Cushite had responded in a similar way:

“I have good news for my lord the king. Today the Lord has rescued you from all those who rebelled against you.” – 2 Samuel 18:31 NLT

There is a passage in the book of Isaiah reflects the perspective David should have had when he received the news of God’s miraculous deliverance of his kingdom.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns! – Isaiah 52:7 NLT

But rather than celebrate the salvation of God, David mourned the loss of his son. He even wished that he had been the one to die that day, instead of Absalom. This ingratitude toward God was evident to all those around David. It shocked and surprised them. David was taking the divine deliverance of God and treating it with disdain. It was one thing to mourn and regret the loss of his son, but he had an obligation as the God-anointed king of Israel to lead his people by example. This was not to be a day of mourning, but celebration. The kingdom needed to unified. David needed to put aside his personal issues and begin the process of restoring the faith of his people in his ability to lead well. Absalom had undermined David’s integrity and had caused the people to reject his as king. Now that he had his throne back, he need to win back the hearts of the people. But David was too busy mourning.

And this would go on for some time. The opening lines of the very next chapter tell us:

Word soon reached Joab that the king was weeping and mourning for Absalom. As all the people heard of the king’s deep grief for his son, the joy of that day’s victory was turned into deep sadness. They crept back into the town that day as though they were ashamed and had deserted in battle. The king covered his face with his hands and kept on crying, “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!” – 2 Samuel 19:1-4 NLT

David’s demeanor cast a pall over the entire nation. Rather than displaying a spirit of celebration, there was a somberness and seriousness to the people. They were afraid to express joy because their king was despondent and depressed. And David’s actions would not have expressed confidence in his troops. They would have naturally been upset that the king had turned their great victory into a national day of mourning. They had risked their lives and many of their brothers had lost their lives so that David might be restored to his throne. And all he could do was weep over the death of his rebellious son.

The prophet Isaiah goes on to describe how the king and the nation should have responded to the news of the victory over their enemy:

The watchmen shout and sing with joy,
    for before their very eyes
    they see the Lord returning to Jerusalem.
Let the ruins of Jerusalem break into joyful song,
    for the Lord has comforted his people.
    He has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has demonstrated his holy power
    before the eyes of all the nations.
All the ends of the earth will see
    the victory of our God. – Isaiah 52:8-10 NLT

How easy it is for us to view life from our limited perspective and to selfishly place our desires over those of God. David had wanted to spare Absalom and somehow return things back to the way they had been before. But God, in His justice, had determined to punish Absalom for what he had done. He was deserving of death. And had David been able to spare him, Absalom would have proven to be a constant threat to his throne. God did what needed to be done. And He had graciously given David back his kingdom. But rather than gratitude and joy, David returned God’s undeserved favor with self-pity and infectious spirit of sorrow.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Self-Pity and Paranoia.

Now Saul heard that David was discovered, and the men who were with him. Saul was sitting at Gibeah under the tamarisk tree on the height with his spear in his hand, and all his servants were standing about him. And Saul said to his servants who stood about him, “Hear now, people of Benjamin; will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards, will he make you all commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, that all of you have conspired against me? No one discloses to me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse. None of you is sorry for me or discloses to me that my son has stirred up my servant against me, to lie in wait, as at this day.” Then answered Doeg the Edomite, who stood by the servants of Saul, “I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, and he inquired of the Lord for him and gave him provisions and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”

Then the king sent to summon Ahimelech the priest, the son of Ahitub, and all his father’s house, the priests who were at Nob, and all of them came to the king. And Saul said, “Hear now, son of Ahitub.” And he answered, “Here I am, my lord.” And Saul said to him, “Why have you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse, in that you have given him bread and a sword and have inquired of God for him, so that he has risen against me, to lie in wait, as at this day?” – 1 Samuel 22:6-13 ESV

These verses provide us with a stark contrast. David was in a cave surrounded by misfits and malcontents, but now we see Saul sitting under the shade of a tree surrounded by his servants. The contrast doesn’t stop there. David provided protection for his family by sending them to the king of Moab for refuge. Yet Saul was busy accusing his own son of treason and of conspiring with David to kill him. David was surrounded by men who were willing to die for him. Saul was surrounded by men who feared him and some had even abandoned him to follow after David. But the greatest contrast between these two men is their relationships with God. David received a prophetic word from God that told him to leave the Cave of Adullam and return to Judah. But Saul had not word from God. In fact, he had no relationship with God at all. God had removed His Spirit from him. Saul was on his on and was by all accounts, God-less. The result was a growing paranoia. He truly believed everyone was against him. His daughter and son had turned on him. His servants were untrustworthy. No one could be trusted. And his paranoia led to a heavy dose of self-pity. He was all alone. And his little speech to his servants reveals the extent of his self-pity.

“Has that son of Jesse promised every one of you fields and vineyards? Has he promised to make you all generals and captains in his army? Is that why you have conspired against me?” – 1 Samuel 22:7-8 NLT

“You’re not even sorry for me.” – 1 Samuel 22:8 NLT

Saul even accused Ahimelech the priest of treason, seeing his actions to help David as a personal attack against him.

“Why have you and the son of Jesse conspired against me?” – 1 Samuel 22:13 NLT

Without God in his life, Saul was susceptible to all kind of irrational and unrighteous thinking. His capacity to mentally process the circumstances of his life was greatly hindered by his lack of God’s presence in his life. He had become a fool, lacking reason and rational thought. He could not even process the fact that all of this was the outcome of the prophet’s warning that God was removing His hand from Saul’s life and giving his kingdom to another. Saul was in a state of denial and suffering from delusion, thinking that he could somehow prevent the inevitable and stay the hand of God. But his unwillingness to accept the will of God would simply cause him to sin against God, committing greater and greater transgressions, all in a hopeless attempt at self-preservation.

Standing among Saul’s servants that day was Doeg the Edomite, who might be better known as Doeg the Snitch. He had hurried back from Nob eager to share the news that David was there and had been given food and the sword of Goliath by Ahimelech the priest. When Saul heard this report, he immediately sent for Ahimelech, his family, and all his fellow priests who served alongside him at Nob. If Ahimelech had been scared when he saw David show up in Nob (1 Samuel 21:1), he must have been petrified at the news of a summon from the king, and any fears he had would prove to be justified.

Saul was a man possessed, both figuratively and literally. He was constantly beset by a “harmful spirit,” the result of God’s removal of the Holy Spirit from his life. Without the influence of God’s Spirit, Saul’s reasoning was impaired. He became self-absorbed and suspicious of everyone and everything. Over time, he would become a man-obsessed, unable to think of anything other than the destruction of David. Essentially, he would no longer act as the king of Israel. His whole life would be focused on one thing: David’s death. The very thing he was trying to protect: His kingship, would get lost in his obsessive-compulsive quest to kill off the competition. Sadly, Saul would be unable to enjoy the benefits of being king, because he lived in constant fear of no longer being king.

One of sad realities of godlessness is that it always results in joylessness, discontentment, fear, jealousy, anger… In fact, the apostle Paul outlines the characteristics or “deeds” of a godless or flesh-based life in his letter to the Galatians.

…sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:20-21 NLT

Saul was miserable, not because he was losing his kingdom, but because he had lost God. His unhappiness, paranoia, self-pity and misguided attempts at self-preservation were driven by his lack of a relationship with God. His decision-making was totally flesh-based, driven by his own sin nature and devoid of any wisdom from God. He had lost his capacity to see things from God’s perspective. Everything had become all about him. He was no longer concerned about the good of Israel or the honor of God’s name. His only thoughts were for self.

The life of the godless is not a pretty picture. And the truly sad thing is that many, who have a relationship with Christ, can end up living godless lives, refusing to seek His will, listen to His Word, or heed His direction. Rather than living God-centered, God-directed lives, they become self-absorbed and susceptible to the flawed input of their own sin natures. While the Spirit of God never leaves them, they quench and grieve the Spirit through disobedience and wilful, unrepentant sin. Rather than enjoying the fruit of the Spirit and the joys of sanctification, they become obsessed with self-preservation and paranoid about protecting what it is they think they have. Jesus said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10 NLT). Saul had been deceived by Satan into believing that joy would be found in pursuing and eliminating David. But nothing could have been further from the truth. And Satan is constantly attempting to deceive us into believing that our way is preferable to God’s way. But our way is the way of the flesh, and it eventually robs us of joy, kills our capacity to love, and destroys any hope of having a rich and satisfying life. Satan offers what he cannot give. Jesus promises what He died to make possible. The God-less life is a paranoid, self-pitying, joyless life. But the godly life brings joy in the midst of sorrow, peace in the middle of the storm, hope when all looks hopeless, contentment in the face of loss, and strength in spite of our own weakness. 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Grace, Love and Fellowship.

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. – 2 Corinthians 13:11-14 ESV

How do you close out a letter like this one? For 13 chapters, Paul has had to defend his ministry, confront the Corinthians about their lack of giving, encourage their continued spiritual growth, and expose the false apostles who were undermining his authority and impacting his work. Now, as he wraps up his letter, he does so with five simple statements. First, he tells them to rejoice. He doesn’t explain what it is they are to rejoice about, but he most likely is referring to their position in Christ. They are children of God, heirs of His Kingdom, recipients of His grace, and possessors of His Holy Spirit. They have much about which to rejoice. Yet it is so easy to lose sight of all that God has done for us and to allow ourselves to live ungrateful, joyless lives. The life of the believer should be marked by joy and rejoicing. But it is a choice. We must decide to express to God our gratitude for all that He has done for us. And even if we should find this life difficult and full of trials, we can rejoice in the fact that our future is secure and that all God has promised for us is guaranteed. We have an eternity ahead of us, free from sin, pain and sorrow. Even if we must suffer in this life, we face a suffering-free future because of our faith in Christ.

Secondly, Paul tells them to “aim for restoration.” This could actually be translated, “set things right” or “put things in order.” This interpretation seems to be more appropriate, because Paul has been pointing out some issues within the church that were not as they should have been. He was concerned about their lack of giving for the saints in Judea. He was worried about the impact the false apostles had had on their faith. Paul wanted them to get their proverbial act together and pursue spiritual maturity. It is quite easy for believers in Christ to find themselves distracted from their primary God-given directive: spiritual maturity. Yes, we are to witness. We are to share the gospel with those who have not yet heard. But our transformed lives are one of the greatest testimonies to the veracity of the gospel we can give. Disorder and disunity in the church are antithetical to our calling as the children of God. Selfishness and self-centeredness are not to be the characteristics for which we are known. As Paul had written them in his first letter, they had a habit of living as if they were still part of the world.

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? – 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT

Paul wants them to put things in order, to restore things to the way God wanted them to be.

Next, Paul tells them to “comfort one another.” Actually, this might be better translated, “be encouraged” or “be comforted.” This seems to fit in with what Paul said earlier in his letter.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 ESV

Paul wanted them to find encouragement in the content of his letter. He knew that their situation was far from perfect. He realized that their pursuit of spiritual maturity was anything be easy. So he wanted them to be encouraged and comforted. God was not done with them yet. And as they were comforted by God, they would be better able to live in unity and peace with one another. It was a common practice in the early church to greet one another with a kiss. It was a sign of their unity and common bond in Christ. But Paul insists that they must greet one another with a holy kiss. It must be without hypocrisy and not just for show. A holy kiss can only come from holy lips. You can’t tear down a brother in Christ, then greet him with a kiss as if nothing was wrong. James writes, “Sometimes it [the tongue] praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” (James 3:9-10 NLT). Holiness is the key to true unity and peace.

Finally, Paul closes his letter with a salutation that alludes to all three members of the Trinity: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Grace, love and fellowship. These three things are critical to the health and well-being of the church. We exist because of the grace of Christ, His unmerited favor, made possible by His death on the cross. And we are to extend that grace to all those within the body of Christ.

Jesus’ death was the direct result of God’s love for us. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). God loved us so much, in spite of our sinfulness and rebellion, that He sent His own Son to die on our behalf. And we are to love one another in the same selfless, sacrificial way.

Finally, as believers in Jesus Christ and recipients of the love of God, we have been given the Spirit of God. We are inhabited by the Holy Spirit, who makes our fellowship with one another possible. He has given each of us spiritual gifts designed for the benefit of the rest of the body. He empowers us with a capacity to love like Christ loved. He produces within us fruit that is designed to minister to one another: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). Our unity is Spirit-empowered, not self-motivated. Our love for one another is made possible by the Spirit of God, not our own self-will.

Grace, love and fellowship – made possible by the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit. We have all we need for living together as the body of Christ, as sons and daughters of God.